Mark Byrnes is a senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
A 1965 educational film explains.
As in any city, the story of Detroit can be told through its roads. In 1965, an educational film illustrated it all in 15 minutes.
Explained in Detroit’s Pattern of Growth, made by Robert Goodman and Gordon Draper of Wayne State University, the city’s layout was informed by French, British, and American rule and its transformation from a fur trading post to the center of the automotive world.
Using minimalist illustrations, the film shows the layers of different visions for the city overlapping though new paths, streets, and eventually, freeways.
With a good 250 years of various plans colliding, there’s a lot to take in. But to keep it short, the film concludes, the city’s paths can be best understood as products of four distinct periods:
The downtown area, which is a small part of Judge Woodward’s plan; the major spoke streets whose routes were based on old Indian trails; streets at right angles to the shoreline along old French farm boundaries and their perpendicular cross streets; and finally, the north-south-east-west streets of the grid system. Even the recent freeways have conformed to the historic routes which have formed the basic patterns of the city of Detroit.
H/T: Detroit Metro Times